On the bus to the start line of the Millennium Way Ultra, my first long long race, I sat next to a guy who was telling me about how he had recently done a 100 miler. What a ridiculous idea, who in their right minds would run 100 miles. But a little thought had entered my mind and I just couldn’t shake it off. That ultra and the subsequent 50 miler and couple of 100 k’ers seemed like the hardest things in the world but the thought just wouldn’t leave me. Do I have a 100 miles in me, can I do it?
Last year saw hamstring tendonopathy enter my life along side a patronising physio who told me that I was always going to get injured if I ran ultras, rapidly replaced by a physio who misdiagnosed and wouldn’t listen. A self designed rehab program followed, linked in with a feeling that I had missed a summer despite managing a team 100km race at the end.
This year would be different. Which is why I found myself on the start line of the SDW100 with the Green Man and a fair few miles under my belt. At that point, it was already feeling like I had found something special. Centurion had organised a kids 1 miler the night before which had set our weekend off to a great start watching the next generation of runners bound around the field. One medal already gained, could mummy bring home a buckle.
I stuck to my race plan from the start. Amazingly for me, I didn’t try to keep up with the racing snakes who legged it up the first hill and, as I found myself chatting to someone who remarked that this was probably a 15 hour pace, I suggested he ran on as that was certainly not on the cards for me. I wanted to try to crack 80 miles by sundown and accept that the last 20 would be a case of survival but didn’t want to burn myself out; I walked up hills I could have run up and tried to relax going down.
The first two check points flew past, I was well within a manageable pace and knew that I could easily run 60-70 miles doing what I was doing and chose to forget that I needed to run a few more than that. Supportive Husband and Enthusiastic Son were waiting for me at QE park which was a great boost, quick hug from the small boy then up through the woods on a familiar route.
The next few check points were a bit of a blur, I knew I could cope with what I was doing at the time but was questioning whether I had gone out too fast when I met up with Annabel who was clearly having a great time and was up for a bit of a chat, even though we were both clearly running our own races. By Washington, I knew that a crash was not far off, I hadn’t run out too fast, I was just running in a totally new type of race, but no time to think about it, head torches stowed and I was off. The nausea was kicking in pretty badly at this point, I think a mixture of too many calories too early on and the hot sun were playing havoc with me but I reached the piggies feeling ok. For the record, putting a dog leg of down a massive hill into Washington and then up another massive hill out of it seemed pretty damn mean at the time but gave myself and another runner something to laugh about.
By Saddlescombe Farm I was pretty spent, nausea was almost overwhelming and the downhill version of my legs were not working. But the ladies at that aid station were just what I needed; I was told to drink some water, told I had 10 miles until the next aid station and that, if I couldn’t eat then I would just need to take stuff with me. Which is why I carried a plastic bag of watermelon for the next 10 miles!
Left foot, right foot, repeat kept me going from there. By the last two check points, I was conscious that I was not necessarily running in a straight line and I don’t think anything I said made sense but, yet again, amazing CP staff seemed to know what to say and what to do to help me out. I had convinced myself that I would be running with someone by the dark hours, but I wasn’t which wasn’t as scary as I imagined. The last time I saw Supportive Husband he told me that this was supposed to be a running race and perhaps I should get running which not only got me running but made me smile.
And then, almost suddenly, the most beautiful trig point in Britain was in front of me along side a couple of very cheery guys showing me the cheeky, ankle twisting route off. After getting lost at the end of that long path (I know, what was I thinking) I got back onto the route marked by massive reflective tape and chalk on the ground which only a total fool could have missed. Then onto the track and through the finish line to a massive hug from Supportive Husband and the distant snores of Enthusiastic Child.
When people ask me about running ultras, they focus on the distance but its not so much about that I don’t think. Its about Mari holding a gate open for myself and another guy and telling us to go through first, its about Matibini patting my back as he ran past whilst giving me a massive smile, its the guy who asked if I needed him to walk with me for a bit when I was struggling, its getting a big well done from Annabel at the end and about every single runner who ran past me asking me if I was okay. The distance part of it allows me to compete against my fears and push to see what I can do but within the amazing community which is Ultra running and, for this race the very special community which is Centurion.
This race was easily the hardest thing I have ever done, and i’ve done quite a lot of hard things. But it was a brilliantly organised event with fabulous volunteers at every check point, helping to turn a brutally hard event into a magical one. It has highlighted many weaknesses, these races always do, and has given me a project of sorting out my weak downhill legs before my next 100. Sorry, did I just hear myself say, next 100………..
First photo by Stuart March Photography